Managing Your Writing and Yourself

Students Talking with Supervisor  

You have your plan and have made a start on writing your thesis.

The key now is to keep going, but doing that as effectively as possible will depend on you being able to manage your work - taking active control of your writing, your time, and yourself so that you follow the plan you have developed and agreed. It is important that you regularly review your progress and use feedback from your supervisors to help you stay on track.

The Doctoral College's Top Tips for Managing Your Writing
  1. Regularly Go Back to Your Plan and Review Your Progress Against This
  2. If You Are Not Keeping to Your Plan, Take Action Early On to Address This
  3. Use Feedback from Your Supervisors to Keep Yourself on Track
  4. Take An Organised Approach to Your Work
  5. Stay Healthy, Stay Positive, and Get the Balance Right

Use Your Plan

Any plan is only as good as the use that is made of it. Once you have developed your thesis plan and your work plan and have agreed these with your supervisory team, it is important that you use them by regularly referring back to them and comparing your actual progress with where your plans say you should be.

As you do this, ask yourself questions about whether what you are doing is consistent with your plans:

  • am I giving as much time to my thesis as I had planned to do?
  • am I on track to complete each section/chapter by the planned date?
  • am I providing draft work to my supervisory team by the dates agreed?
  • does each section/chapter include the information that it was supposed to?
  • does each section/chapter help explain what my original contribution to knowledge is?

If you are finding that you are not keeping to your plans, then you may have to adjust your working practices. A common problem is to not give enough time to your thesis - regular writing is not only good for your progress, it will help you gain confidence, develop a more effective writing style, and make sitting down to work much less off-putting.

Another common problem is to confuse thinking about work with actual work (procrastination) or to worry that what you have written is not good enough (perfectionism). If you find yourself in a situation where your work is affected by these problems, the best way to deal with them is to speak about them to someone else - perhaps your supervisory team or a friend. Talking about the issue will help you clarify your thoughts and make a decision that enables you to move on with your work.

Use Feedback

Research students are encouraged to make seeking feedback from their supervisors a regular feature in their work plan. Seeking feedback from your supervisors will help you to manage your writing in two main ways:

  • having agreed dates by which you must submit draft work to your supervisors will help you stay focussed and keep to your work plan
  • your supervisors' comments will help you improve the quality of your writing

The feedback that your supervisors provide is likely to address both positive and negative aspects of your work. Recognise the positive feedback and be pleased with it - but do not be tempted to ignore any negative feedback. It is provided with the aim of helping your work and you should make use of your supervisors' advice.

You may also want to seek feedback from friends or fellow researchers. Here the feedback may be less detailed, but it can help your motivation to hear from people you trust that you are on the right track. In some departments, research students have set up thesis writing groups where those attending can read excerpts from their work, get some feedback, and share their own thesis writing stories and anxieties. Ask your Postgraduate Tutor if there is a group in your Department or College.

Work Smart

When it comes to your final year, it pays to be a little boring - not in your writing, but in your working patterns. Routine and order are both important tools in helping you manage your time.

Keep Fixed Work Hours

Keeping fixed work hours each day will help you to develop a pattern of regular working. This is important because having that routine will help you ensure you give sufficient time to your thesis each day, avoid losing days when you feel less inclined to work, and develop a rhythm for working which makes it easier to resume your writing each day.

Have a Tidy Workspace

Keeping your workspace tidy will help you avoid unnecessary distractions and stay focused on your work. You need to have a workspace that is comfortable, quiet, and which encourages you to approach your work each day in a professional frame of mind.

Use Files and Folders

Using files and folders is important because as your thesis progresses you will find you collect a large number of draft chapters/sections, notes, and other documents. You need to have a system for organising these materials so that you can locate them easily and quickly as you need them.  

Use IT

If you are using MS Word, there are several features that you can use to make it easier to prepare and manage a long document like a thesis. For practical advice and tips, read the Using Long Documents in MS Word Study Guide.

Take Care of Yourself

Writing your thesis is hugely demanding and it is easy to forget basic rules for healthy living:

  • taking regular exercise
  • eating a healthy diet
  • getting enough sleep

All these things will help you maintain your motivation, stay positive, and manage stress. You can find lots of easy to follow advice on the NHS LiveWell Hub. You might also find it helpful to arrange a consultation with the University's Healthy Living Service.

If you are based in Leicester, the University has excellent sport and recreation facilities as well as a number of sports clubs for students and staff. For more advice, visit the Sport and Recreation Website.

Get the Right Balance

To keep up with your work plan you will need to make sure that you are giving sufficient time to working on your thesis each week. However, writing your thesis is not a 24/7 job and it is important to take regular breaks and to make time to get away from your thesis altogether.

Regular short breaks during the day will help you stay focused and give you a chance to refresh yourself and stretch your legs - short breaks like this are particularly important if you are working at a computer as getting away from the screen will help avoid eye strain. You also need to make time for regular meal breaks to ensure that you are eating healthily.

Stay Positive

Managing your work effectively requires a positive approach - your thesis is a challenge but one that you should be keen to get to grips with. Particularly as your final year goes on though, the initial enthusiasm can fade and your eagerness to work can diminish. It is therefore important to manage your motivation, but sometimes the issue may become more serious and lead to problems such as stress or depression.

If you experience these problems, it is important not to ignore them. Speaking with your supervisors, your friends, or family can often help you to get things in perspective and identify ways to get back on track. If you need more specialist advice or just want to talk with someone in confidence, the University offers free and confidential counselling provided by qualified professionals. For more advice, visit the Student Support Service Website.

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